n Stellenbosch Law Review = Stellenbosch Regstydskrif - The legal recognition of child-headed households : is our focus where it should be?

Volume 25, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1016-4359
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2193



Child-headed households are recognised as an independent family form in the Children's Act 38 of 2005, provided that this is in the best interests of all the children living in the household. This step by the South African legislator, hailed by some child law scholars as groundbreaking, was severely criticised by others. This criticism is understandable in view of the alarming projections in the early 2000s of the number of children who were expected to be orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic. The starting point of this contribution is an important article published by Helen Meintjies and Sonja Giese in 2006 ("Spinning the Epidemic: The Making of Mythologies of Orphanhood in the Context of AIDS" (2006) 13 407). In this article the authors discuss data collected from a qualitative research project that showed the questionability of a singular focus on orphanhood in HIV/AIDS discourse and the resultant one-dimensional view of the real impact of the AIDS pandemic on children. They indicate that this singular focus on orphanhood masks the true vulnerabilities of children, particularly poverty. The findings they discuss were confirmed by larger-scale quantitative studies at the time. This contribution discusses and emphasises the important findings of Meintjies and Giese. It also illustrates that more recent quantitative studies confirm their qualitative findings. The conclusion is reached that government responses that address the needs of orphans to the exclusion of all other vulnerable children, are inappropriate. The importance of focusing government resources on poverty alleviation for all vulnerable children, including orphans and children living in child-headed households, is highlighted.

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